Car Won’t Shift Out of Park? (3 Causes and How to Fix)

Have you ever attempted to leave for work in the morning, only to find that your automatic transmission is stuck in the park position? If so, you are certainly not alone. While indeed troubling, this issue is far more common than one might think.

Luckily, when a transmission is stuck in park, a minor mechanical fault is often to blame. Read on to learn more about why your transmission is stuck in park, and what will be required to fix this condition.

automatic transmission stuck in park

Understanding Transmission “Park” Operation

Throughout the years, automotive manufacturers have made great strides toward increasing vehicle safety. As a result, automatic transmissions have been engineered to feature a number of fail-safe features, which prevent a vehicle from moving, other than when intended. 

All automatic transmissions now rely upon a device called a parking pawl, to prevent unintended vehicle movement when in the “park” position. When a vehicle is placed in park, this lever-like device engages a specialized parking gear, which is mated to the transmission’s output shaft. The parking pawl disengages from this parking gear when any alternative shifter selection is made.

See Also: Different Transmission Types (and How to Identify)

Potential Causes of a Stuck In Park Condition

The following are the most likely causes of a vehicle’s transmission failure to release from its park position.

Related: 3 Causes of a Stuck Parking Brake

#1 – Incline Induced Pawl Pressure

parking on steep hill

When parking on a steep incline, a transmission’s parking pawl can come under an immense amount of pressure, as it wedges into its corresponding parking gear.

Under these circumstances, the parking pawl and parking gear are supporting a vehicle’s entire weight. This often makes it difficult to shift out of the park position, leaving motorists stranded in the process.

In this case, one must relieve this pressure, in order to successfully shift into any drive gear. This often requires the help of a second individual, who can create enough movement to facilitate proper disengagement, by rocking the vehicle back and forth.

However, on steep inclines, this process might require the use of a secondary towing vehicle.

In order to prevent such a situation, it is imperative to set your parking brake when attempting to stop on an incline, prior to placing your vehicle in park. This places all weight on a vehicle’s parking brake assemblies, as opposed to the parking pawl and parking gear.

Read Also: “Hill Start Assist Not Available” Message

#2 – Shifter Interlock

automatic transmission shifter interlock

To prevent a vehicle from being accidentally shifted into drive or reverse, engineers typically fit all vehicles with a shifter interlock system. This interlock manually bars a shifter from being moved out of the park position, until the vehicle’s brake pedal is depressed.

However, interlock systems do fail in the engaged position on occasion. To prevent motorists from becoming stranded under such circumstances, the majority of manufacturers fit their vehicles with a shift lock release. The use of this release allows a driver to override their vehicle’s shifter interlock.

See Also: 5 Causes of Your Reverse Lights Not Working

The shifter interlock in some vehicles can be bypassed by simply turning your key to the accessory position, and placing the shifter in the neutral position, where the vehicle can then be started.

However, if this proves ineffective, one can access the manual shift lock override, which is typically engaged by inserting a key or small flathead screwdriver. 

The location of this manual override differs from one vehicle to the next, though one can consult their owner’s manual for specifics. It is a wise idea to familiarize yourself with such procedures now, rather than to be forced to seek such information out when in the midst of a park related issue.

#3 – Brake Light Switch Failure

brake switch

As previously mentioned, most vehicles feature a shifter interlock that is reliant upon brake pedal operation for disengagement. This system detects brake pedal operation through the actuation of a brake switch.

If the brake light switch fails, the interlock function can be adversely affected. Typically, a vehicle’s shift interlock will act as if the brake pedal was never applied.

The simplest way to diagnose such an issue is to have a helper monitor your vehicle’s brake light operation. If your brake lights fail to illuminate when you depress the brake pedal, your vehicle’s brake switch is likely faulty. This is a presumptive diagnosis, which can later be verified through testing with a multimeter. 

If your vehicle’s brake switch does indeed prove to be faulty, replacement will be necessary in order to prevent the recurrence of this issue.

In many cases, this is a relatively simple job to complete, and requires little to no expenditure outside of the purchase of a replacement sensor. Replacement brake sensors can typically be sourced from any local parts distributor.

See Also: Neutral Safety Switch Replacement Cost

How to Fix a Stuck Gear Shifter

If your automatic transmission shift lever is stuck and unable to move out of park, there are a few things you can try before calling a mechanic:

  1. Firmly depress the brake pedal – Make sure the brake pedal is pushed all the way to the floor. This allows the shifter interlock to disengage.
  2. Toggle the ignition switch – Turn the key back and forth between the accessory and on positions while applying the brake. This may override the interlock.
  3. Use the shift lock manual override – Using your owner’s manual, find the access hole or button to manually release the shift lock. Typically need a key or screwdriver to push in override.
  4. Replace brake light switch – If other methods fail, replace the faulty switch.

Read Also: What Happens When Driving With the E-Brake On

Josh Boyd


  1. I have a 2005 Honda accord first my alarm system wouldn’t stop going off we have that fixed now my car won’t shift out of park

    1. Are you parked on a hill? Are your brake lights working? Can you shift out of park if you press the shift lock override button near the shifter?

  2. Hello from Finland. I’m writing as behalf of my mom, or her Nissan Almera Tino. -06 Automatic.
    I changed winterstuds on yesterday and went to check the pressures all good and sound. Drove the car back and left it there for my mother to get to work this morning.
    The car won’t start and the gear lever is stuck on P. The engine is turning but not starting. I can get the lever unstuck with the release button, but even when it’s on N the car can’t be pushed. Like its still on gear or so. Engine turns while on N also but will not start. What do, help please.

    1. If the issue is with the brake switch or neutral safety switch, there should be a little cover on or near the parking lever you can pop off. Underneath there is a little button you should be able to push. Make sure you’re stepping on the brake when you do this. Once you push the button, you should be able to shift out of park using the shift lever normally if you just have a bad brake switch.

      Don’t leave the car like this. You’ll want to get the problem resolved as soon as you can.

  3. hello Sir

    I have SM5 2005 my car have a problem gear stuck on P brake lights are working when press pedal i removed the cover and with screw driver i removed from P to N its normal driving i want to ask reason even i replaced the selector lever Safety switch.

    1. I don’t know. I would do a test to verify that the replacement neutral safety switch is working correctly.

      While you’re in there, you might want to test the brake switch to make sure that is also working.

  4. Mine just made a funny struggle noise when shifted from park. But it moved anyhow. What could the problem be?

  5. Problem taking car out of park . Used bypass. I have 2016 Kia Sorento.Kia repair ed broken wire in center console.The next day started same problem.I have brake lights.

  6. My suv shifter wont. Shift from park to reverse.if i sit for 15 min usually shifts easily then other day this happened my foot on brake i heard a low moan and i lost brakes peddal went to floor resovior full why?

    1. Those sound like they may be unrelated issues, and I would probably get the car checked out at a local shop. Brakes aren’t something to mess around with.

  7. My 2 brake lights are not working.and I noticed that shifting from park to drive can’t be done.unless I PUSH shifting lock.are they associated with transmission

  8. Hi,
    I don’t have any issues when starting the car and moving it from P to another gear. But if I leave the car in P for 10-15 seconds , then I am unable to shift from this gear.

    1. Did you ever find a solution? try switing the key over just a little (you may have to play with it a little) find the postion that allows you to shift into neutral and then press firmly on the brakes and try and start the vehicle. this should allow you to bypass the shift lock and in return shift your vehicle into the postion you need.

      Hope this helps!

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